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Puppies are so rambunctious and adorable that their energy is often infectious. We want to get down on the ground and wrestle around with them. But the wrong message can give your puppy the impression that he can treat you just like he would a littermate by playing rough and using his sharp, needle-like teeth. That miscommunication can lead to injury and damage your relationship with your pup.
Most puppies are taught the right way to play early on in their lives, first by their mothers and then by their siblings. But if you’ve adopted a puppy who was orphaned or a stray, he might not have received that critical training from his mother. In that case, he will need you to step in and show him the correct way to behave. Even if your puppy had a typical upbringing, he still needs to learn that you are not a dog and that you expect good behavior from him, even when you’re playing. With patience and consistency, you can train your puppy to stop biting during play.
It’s natural for puppies to use their teeth and mouth when playing. After all, they are young and excitable, and they need consistent, gentle guidance to teach them how they should act around people. Training your puppy to avoid biting while playing--or in any other situation--will help build the bond between the two of you, will establish you as your dog’s leader, and will eliminate potentially painful puppy bites that will only become more painful and more dangerous as your puppy grows up.
Mimicking the way in which a dog reacts to a puppy bite can be an effective way of solving this behavioral issue. Also, substitution and redirection work, provided that you maintain consistency in training, tone, and patience. Help your puppy learn the right way to play, and you’ll have a best friend for life!
An object for redirection of your puppy’s attention can be helpful for some of these training sessions, so have a puppy-appropriate toy with you. Otherwise, the essential quality to have before you start is the right mindset. Remember you are working with a very young dog so have patience as it may take your puppy some time before he gets it right
Keep training sessions short to avoid frustration for you and boredom for your puppy. Stay consistent and upbeat, and your puppy will learn that doing what you ask is fun and rewarding.
The Yelp Method
Wait for the latch on
When your puppy engages in play with you, wait until he latches on too hard to your fingers or hand. Do not pull your hand away; your puppy might interpret that as you engaging in a game of chase.
As soon as your puppy bites down too hard, let your hand go limp.
Give a "yelp"
Mimic a puppy's "yelp" or say "ow!" at a high pitch. Your puppy will understand the yelp to be a sign that he hurt you by playing too hard.
Repeat steps 1 - 3 no more than three times in fifteen minutes. After that point, take a break.
Train for more moderate bites
Once your puppy has the hard bite message down, follow these steps again for moderate bites, and then eventually for any time your puppy puts his teeth on you. He will learn that mouthing is fine, but teeth are not ever allowed.
The Game Over Method
Engage in play
Begin playing with your pup.
Wait for the teeth
Wait for your puppy to mouth or bite your fingers or hand.
Immediately stop engaging in play with the puppy.
Disengage from your pup
Stand up and either turn around or put your hands in your pockets or armpits. This action lets your puppy know that teeth mean "game over" for playtime.
Repeat this training process regularly and consistently in short sessions until your puppy no longer uses his mouth or teeth during play.
The Substitute Method
Begin playing with your puppy
Start playing with your pup until you feel his mouth or teeth on your hand.
Distract your pup
Distract your dog momentarily by bringing a puppy toy into the mix.
Use the toy as an alternate
Replace your hand with the puppy-proofed chew toy. With practice, your puppy will learn that the toy can be chewed on, but not your hand.
End the session if teeth appear
If your puppy goes back to biting and chewing on you, end the play session. Take a break and try again in a little while.
Repeat the process
Repeat steps 1 - 4 in short sessions until your puppy recognizes that your hand is off limits, but his chewing can be satisfied with the right toy.
By Erin Cain
Published: 02/07/2018, edited: 01/08/2021